Halo: Spartan Assault (WP) Review by Izzy of Albion

Izzy of AlbionIzzy of Albion636,791
30 Aug 2013 20 Sep 2013
17 0 9
For a number of years now, people have been dreaming of portable incarnations of Microsoft's biggest game franchises for their Windows Phones. None less than Halo. The release of a Waypoint app raised hopes, hopes which only faded the longer said app went without an update for Halo 4, being as it is, contemporary to Halo Reach. To this day it remains ignorant of Halo 4 and as such hopelessly out of date.

But to our surprise and delight, Windows Phone 8, and an updated generation of hardware, brought with it the game that we had always hoped for. Specifically, a very well designed and executed top-down shooter, that feels every bit part of the Halo universe. Forgoing the epic scale and complexity of storystelling that it's console counterparts have become famous for, it instead portrays the early days of the Spartan Ops program. You play as Spartans Palmer and Davis, fighting in six operations against the covenant, each divided into five short missions. These missions vary in nature from defence to assault, in much the same way as the Spartan Ops mode in Halo 4 does. In fact, the whole game feels very much like that mode. Trademark Halo gameplay in 5 minute bursts, all of your favourite weapons, vehicles and enemies to play with, with a score given based on time taken and medals earned, and that score translated to a bronze, silver or gold star. It's a world that any Halo fan will instantly feel at home with in every way.

A short, but beautifully rendered movie sets the scene for each operation, each mission within described by just a paragraph or two for those that want further insight into what's happening and why. Before wading into battle, you can exercise a modicum of control over your loadout; what weapons, armour ability and boosters you will use. The weapons designated by default vary by mission, and cover both human and covenant factions. Most weapons a Halo fan will be familiar with feature here. The same goes for armour abilities. Additionally, purchased credits or earned XP can be spent to upgrade these items for more powerful ones, such as the spartan laser or the rocket launcher, and "boosters" can also be bought which boost shield, score, or damage. This is where the microtransactions come into play, but honestly, upgrading to any of this stuff is not necessary to enjoy the game to it's fullest, and can be bought with XP anyway, albeit a significant chunk. Skulls can also be selected on this screen, from a choice of six, which combine to increase the XP you'll receive from completing the mission. Once ready to begin, the mission loads impressively quickly; it's just a couple of seconds in fact, before you're thrown straight into the action.

So here's where the rubber meets the road. How does it look, and how does it play? Firstly, the graphics are stunning. On my Lumia 820 at least, with its 800 x 480 amoled display, I am greeted by the vibrant, richly colourful environment of a rocky exoplanet, packed with detail and immaculately textured, with deep black shadows and beautifully colourful blue, green and purple lighting emanating from every flare, bioluminescent plant and plasma explosion. And even in the heat of battle, the perfectly smooth frame rate never drops. The maps range greatly in size, but all seem well designed and laid out. The sound is also worthy of a mention here, featuring the kind of sci-fi plainsong that Halo fans have come to love, along with authentic weapon sounds, those familiar covenant cries and spartan battle chatter. With my Lumia linked to my awesome new bluetooth speaker, it is clear that the sound is as high quality as the graphics.

The controls have come under some fire for being fiddly or confusing, especially when driving vehicles. But actually I found them easy to get to grips with after only a short adjustment period. Adapted from a twin-stick shooter, it forgoes virtual sticks in favour of using the entire screen. With both thumbs on the screen, the left controls movement while the right controls direction of fire. While it avoids the usual problem of slipping off of a virtual stick that you cannot feel, it can on occasion introduce a new problem; that of your thumbs straying too far into the screen and obscuring your view of the action. With practice I'm sure this can be avoided. A well thought out set of gestures control all other functions. A button on the bottom right of the hud controls all actions, whether picking up dropped weapons, entering vehicles or turrets, or setting charges. Tapping the weapon/ammo hud element top right switches weapon. Tapping on the character activates the armour ability, while double-tapping anywhere on screen throws a grenade (or fires the main gun on a scorpion or wraith) in the direction your character faces. And that's about it. An excellent tutorial mission walks you through all of this, but actually it's pretty intuitive.

But there are more layers to this game that elevate it above and beyond what I expected. It features weekly challenges for example, just like Halo 4, which help you to gain XP quickly. What's more, your Halo 4 career and your Spartan Assault career are automatically linked, and mutually beneficial. Earning certain achievements in Spartan Assault can unlock goodies in Halo 4, and vice-versa.

As far as achievements go, we have a good mix of difficulty here, like any Halo game. Totalling 250G thanks to a free update that added the sixth operation to the game, it varies from simply complete each operation, to mission-specific challenges, some of which are tricky, to the very hard task of gold medalling all levels.

There is one criticism of the game however, that is frequently mentioned and undeniably true; your phone will get hot. I mean, really hot. After 20 minutes' play you could fry an egg or iron a shirt with the damned thing, much more than 40 minutes and you'll need asbestos gloves if you value your thumbs. It's more hardware intensive than any mobile game I have ever played. What's more it will take up a hefty lump of your storage. Post update, 1.2gb of space in fact, if you have the space to install the thing in the first place.

In summary though, I can strongly recommend it to all Halo fans, even at the slightly high price. For me, it represents a high watermark for this type of game, perfectly designed and executed in every department, well worthy of carrying the Halo name and the high price tag.

This review was based on around 20 hours play with a Lumia 820
gladbecker82Good Review, i just started it too. And the Battery Drain is really ridiculous. The Graphics are good but not so breathtaking did the phone is empty within an hour. Maybe the can manage this a little bit better with a future patch.
Posted by gladbecker82 on 01 Sep 13 at 00:36
ScottMacFreedomYah that battery drain was a bitch... Even while charging. I find it amusing that it is even possible to drain more than you charge... Sounds like my car... I swear man, the altenator needs to be fried it's the only explanation. But life problems aside. Decent review. I like it.
Posted by ScottMacFreedom on 02 Sep 13 at 09:44
Marcos AspiraDoes it works on Lumia 520?
Posted by Marcos Aspira on 29 Nov 13 at 08:59
Izzy of AlbionAs far as I know Marcos, the large update the game got in August enabled it to be used on devices with 512mb RAM, so yes. And I think that if your phone will let you download a game on it from the Windows Phone store, then it is compatible. If it not it will not let you, or perhaps not even list the game. Please do check these things though. I am not affiliated with the developers of this game in any way, or an expert on the platform or its games. I am just a guy with a Lumia 820 who plays games. smile
Posted by Izzy of Albion on 29 Nov 13 at 09:54
Marcos AspiraIt appears on the store for me, unlike Rocket Riot for example... so, just downloaded the Lite version, gonna play it and decide if I'll purchase or not, thanks! :)
Posted by Marcos Aspira on 29 Nov 13 at 15:03
OMGWTH00111111It works on lumia 520. The only issue i had was downloading the dam thing. Once downloaded tho no issues and runs as smooth as its win8 counterpart.
Posted by OMGWTH00111111 on 01 Dec 13 at 09:44
GeoffistophelesI found the controls were really only forgivable if you only played the WP version. It's all the little details that add up to one frustration - can't fire the machine gun and the rockets on a tank at the same time, can't move, shoot, and armor ability at the same time, can't grenade as easily, can't see what I'm aiming at on a turret because my thumbs are in the way (D-5, I'm looking at you!)... they've succeeded in getting so many actions down to a quick, understandable list, but playing on any other device eliminates the shortcomings.
Posted by Geoffistopheles on 27 Mar 14 at 15:13
Mazraelcamera zoom sucks when using a vehicle, usually firing blind, with the wrath being the only tank that can fire over cover when all but the ghost would have line of sight over most cover, and most of the time the game feels like you should be using a controller
Posted by Mazrael on 18 Apr 14 at 01:01
JuicyjamsDo these achievements stack with the windows 8 version?
Posted by Juicyjams on 07 May 15 at 01:22